Moving On After A Race Goes Wrong

Three easy steps for getting over poor performance
Staff Writer

Brandon Laan—If you’ve run a bad race recently, rest assured–you’re not alone.

Greg Wieczorek, a 2:25 marathoner, said it brilliantly: “Probability theory dictates that I am not going to hit one out of the park every race.” It’s important for every runner to consider the way in which he or she judges their own successes or failures. Cam Levins, a budding Canadian superstar who recently ran 7:45 for 3,000 meters and 3:57 for the mile, said, “You have to have a short memory and, despite the world knowing about your poor performance, it is not the end of the world.”

RELATED: Bouncing Back From A Bad Workout

If your body has fully recovered from a race, but your ego is still sore, it might be time to let yourself off the hook. John C. Maxwell wrote a book called Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success. Although the title of Maxwell’s book sounds akin to something my mother would tell me growing up to soften the blow whenever failure hit, I do believe that Maxwell is right and that turning mistakes into stepping stones for success is the ultimate path to improvement. Tim Tollefson, U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier, said, “Wasting too much psychological energy dwelling on what could’ve been is a futile habit. So my remedy: Reflect, grow and move on.”

While goal setting is a must, the possibility of not obtaining goals comes with the territory. With success and hard work came the expectation of success, but failure always seems to hit the hardest.

You can either fail backward or fail forward. Let failures be your teachers and help you move forward, especially in regard to racing. On the following pages are three tips for helping you move on when a race doesn’t go as well as you had hoped.

1. Don’t Overanalyze.

Ariana Hilborn, who finished 29th at the recent U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, makes a list of things she did well and things she needs to improve on after a race. “If a race didn’t go well, the first thing I do is determine what went wrong. Was it under my control? If so, then I know I need to focus on that aspect the next time I race.”

The takeaway: Let yourself be disappointed for five minutes after a bad race. Time those five minutes, and then move on. Don’t dwell on it.

2. Listen to Your Body

A sub-par race performance might be telling you something is wrong with your training. Answer the following 5 questions:

  • Was my training consistent?
  • Did I hit my weekly mileage goals?
  • Did I do the little things? (Stretching, core work, mobility exercises, strides)
  • Was I eating properly?
  • Did I rest and recover well from workouts?

If you answered no to any of these questions, it’s a good reminder that everything matters. Listen to your body. Perhaps your body has been whispering to you that something needs your attention. A wise man once told me: “Listen to the whispers, so you don’t have to hear the screams."

3. Recognize Your Improvements

John Maxwell said, “One of the greatest problems people have with failure is that they are too quick to judge isolated situations in their lives and label them as failures. Instead, they need to keep the bigger picture in mind.”

Notice individual improvements you made in training and during the race and don’t just focus on your finishing time. Know that if you were improving your times in training runs, that your training did not all of a sudden go to waste because of one bad outcome.

“Having bad races is part of being a runner,” Hilborn says. “They make you tough, they motivate you, and they keep you humble. A good runner can bounce back and not give up on their goal, even though it is emotionally hard to do so at times."


Quitting only ensures failure. Paul J. Meyer said, “Ninety percent of all those who fail are not actually defeated. They simply quit."

Stepping on the starting line of a race is taking a risk. Running is a unique sport in that the average weekend warrior is not pursuing a win, but rather has his own idea of what winning is. In the words of Hilborn: “You are never as good or bad as your last race.”

About The Author:

Brandon Laan is a runner, coach, and entrepreneur. He is the co-owner of and Race Director for Rock The Road 10K. He is a Level II Certified USATF coach and holds personal bests of 1:06 and 2:21 in the half marathon and marathon, respectively. He also enjoys running to eat, not eating to run…and always will.


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